Mission: Intimacy “What are the obstacles to intimacy in our community?” We continue to address this important topic with our guest contributor, Ryan Sanders. Ryan is a pastor who lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife and two children. He has an incredible journey that you can read more about in his full bio. We are honored to be able to share with you his thoughts on obstacles to intimacy within our community; neighbors, co-workers, those in our church fellowship groups, etc.
Before Ryan addresses this topic, let me remind you of the definition of intimacy we are using. Intimacy is a mutual, intentional, close, safe, growing relationship where there is authenticity, transparency and vulnerability.
My question to Ryan was the same as it was to Heather Zempel last week, “What are the obstacles to intimacy in our community?” The following is Ryan’s informative and challenging response:
I recently sat and talked with one of the members of a small group at our church. Correction: a former member of a small group. This was a committed and mature believer, someone who is earnestly seeking to follow Jesus and seeking brothers and sisters to follow with. We were meeting for her to explain why she and her husband had left their group; why, in fact, they had left more than one small group at our church.
“I really want to connect, to go deeper,” she said. “I know how life-giving Christian community can be. I went to China with a team of seven other people several years ago. I feel like they’re family. I want to connect with people like that.”
It was at that point that I knew I had lost her. This young lady wouldn’t find community as meaningful as that which she found on the mission field anytime soon. I told her I understood and wished her the best.
Why? After all, I’m paid to connect people in small groups. So why would I give up on her connections so easily? Because I can’t compete. Small groups at my church meet in comfortable living rooms around delicious food to discuss how the Bible applies to relatively worry-free lives. There are simply too many obstacles to deep community in that setting to achieve intimate connection. We are surrounded by obstacles to community. They’re so common, in fact, that we’ve stopped noticing them.
Our neighborhoods are built with rear-entry garages, all-night grocery stores and even lawn care contracts. There is never any reason for us to bump into our neighbors, borrow a cup of sugar, or even know their names.
Our culture feeds on fear and the 24-hour news cycle so we sacrifice human connection for the sake of gated communities, passwords, and security measures.
We’ve even lost access to basic skills in connecting with others. Sociologists say the millennial generation has trouble making phone calls because they can’t seem to end a verbal conversation.
But those cultural excuses are well-documented. This certainly isn’t the first article the reader will have encountered about the perceived evils of suburbia and modern living. What is more telling, I think, is the obstacle to intimacy that we’re most afraid to lose. To find it, we only have to ask an obvious question: when have we connected most intimately in Christian community? What were the circumstances of those connections? If I ask that of people at my church, the answer invariably involves some kind of hardship.
We helped someone through cancer. We went on a mission trip to an impoverished or politically dangerous country. We prayed for a friend’s struggling marriage. When we suffer together, solidarity grows. Bonds formed in trial are always stronger than those formed in comfort. Ask any soldier how he feels about the man or woman in the foxhole next to him, and he’ll use words like love, duty, sacrifice, and family. Ask the average church attender how he feels about the man in the pew next to him, and you’ll probably get a blank stare. It turns out, the greatest obstacle to intimate Christian community isn’t hardship, but ease. We don’t connect deeply because we don’t have to.
If we are ever to achieve meaningful, intimate relationships with our Christian brothers and sisters, we’re going to have to put ourselves in challenging positions. That could mean mission trips, neighborhood ministries, or service teams. Or it could just mean church leaders refusing to make every step of community life easy and convenient. If we tell our church members they can shop for Christian community the way they shop for school clothes — looking for the best value at the lowest cost — we only set them up for disappointment. But if we challenge them — if we ask them for more than they’re comfortable giving — if we realize [tweet_dis]that the greatest obstacle to Christian community is convenience[/tweet_dis], then we might forge bands of Christian unity that change the world.
Thank you, Ryan. That is a powerful challenge to us all.
Ryan Sanders will be back with us in a few weeks contributing on the opportunities to grow in intimacy within our community.
If you are new to Mission: Intimacy and you want to accept this mission with us to learn and grow in intimacy, visit our “details” web page that will get you started. You will find the introduction as well as a download that is available to assist you as you discover God’s plan for relationships. Also, please visit the previous articles on this topics as well.